Graceville History

courtesy of Big Stone County Historical Museum
(Big Stone County Minnesota 1881-1981)

Graceville began as a planned colony for the Irish Catholic immigrants living along the Atlantic seaboard.  Early in 1878, Bishop John Ireland commissioned Colonel Josia R. King, a surveyor, to select a suitable site for a town in Big Stone County.  Colonel King purchased a soldier’s claim of 80 acres, and 175 acres north of Toqua Lake from Colonel Dunlap.  The townsite was named in honor of Thomas Grace, Bishop of St. Paul from 18959 to 1884.

In the spring of 1878, the people began to arrive.  In March Maurice Green came and homesteaded a half-mile north the town.  Second was D. Fahey, third, William Nash,and fourth , Col. King.

During the summer of 1878, quite a few more were added to the number, and claim shanties were built on various homesteads.  A crude building of rough boards, the huge Immigrant House, was erected and served as a shelter to families until they could build their own.  It was also a retreat for families when the men went on trading trips.  It was used for church on Sundays, with the first service held in June by Rev. Father Oster of Clontarf.  The first stock of groceries was placed in the building by a young man named Shortall from St. Paul.

In the fall of 1878, R. A. Costello and P.H. Fitzgerald purchased some lots and commenced work.  Fitzgerald started a butcher shop.  R. A. Costello and W. F. O’Neil erected the first store in town for hardware and general merchandise.  In just a few months, many businesses were in operation.

In December 1879, Bishop Ireland obtained control of 50,000 more acres of indemnity lands from the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba railroad.  Within the year, 100 Catholic families had arrived in Graceville.  By September 1881, the colony consisted of 400 Catholic settlers.

In the spring of 1880, the Connemara Colony of 24 families from Ireland arrived.   They were placed on farms.  Coming from the cities of Ireland, they were wholly unprepared for farming.  Eventually, Bishop Ireland provided them with transportation to St. Paul and secured jobs for them there.

Livery stables were very important before the automobile era.  Art Geer’s stable burned February 28, 1912, and the Larry Fallon Livery Barn was also destroyed by a fire.  Griffith’s Livery, in operation about 1900, burned July 4, 1921, and the Larry Fallon Livery Barn was also destroyed by a fire.  Griffith’s Livery, in operation about 1900, burned July 4, 1921, in a spectacular fire that consumed the barn, two houses, woodsheds, and 15 or more horses.

There was another bad fire about 1910, when the Schlitz Brewery burned.  The Schlitz Company and the Golblatz Brewery were the  area distributors for beer and whiskey to neighboring towns.

The “Opera House,” also know as City Hall, was built in 1887.  It was a two-story wooden structure.  On he first floor were the village council rooms, the fire station, and the library.  The second floor had a stage and some equipment for the production of plays.  It was also used for basketball games, dances and the big celebration of St. Patrick’s Day.  It was torn down in 1930.

Hoffman Implement, owned and operated by Vic Hoffman since 1963, started business under William J. Lang, who sold farm machinery and supplies in 1919.  From 1936 to 1945, Al. P. and Grant Hustad built up the farm machinery business in the area.  From 1946 to 1949, Lewis Tintera had the business, and in 1950 to 1951, Knute Stovern was the I-H dealer.  From 1953 to 1962, Joe Chalupnik and Vic Hoffman were the owners and operators.  Vic Hoffman started work as a mechanic in 1943 and 20 years later owned the business.